'We need a solution': Principals push back on forced enrolments, saying it puts kids at risk

RNZ
The Principals Federation has advised its members to defy legally binding directives to enrol violent children who have been kicked out of other schools.

Principals are pushing back against a law which forces them to enrol students who have been excluded from school for violence, saying it fails those children while putting others at risk.

The New Zealand Principals’ Federation has encouraged its members to contest legally-binding directed enrolments from the Ministry of Education.

But the ministry says it is concerned the federation is encouraging schools to contest directed enrolments, saying every child has a right to an education.

Federation President Perry Rush said children who were excluded often did not get adequate support, and there needed to be an alternate solution to keep them in the education system, rather than placing them in another school.

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Forcing children back into education with limited additional support often meant they fell through the cracks, sometimes being excluded multiple times.

“Of course the ultimate outcome of a pattern of exclusion is a young person falling out of the education system and going out onto the street.”

The Ministry of Education says it is concerned by the Federation’s stance, as every child and young person has a right to education (File photo).
123RF
The Ministry of Education says it is concerned by the Federation’s stance, as every child and young person has a right to education (File photo).

The federation was currently supporting a school to contest a directed enrolment, saying there needed to be urgent action to address the issue of violence in schools.

“We have really got sick and tried of vocalising our concerns, we really need a solution at pace now,” Rush said.

While there was support for schools who were directed to take students, it was not enough.

“In most instances, even the most serious young people will get the offer of a couple of hours of teacher aide support. They don’t just turn on the challenges with their behaviour between 2 and 3 every Tuesday afternoon when the teacher aide is present.”

New Zealand Principals’ Federation president Perry Rush says there needed to be alternative pathways for kids who are violent in school (File photo).
Monique Ford/Stuff
New Zealand Principals’ Federation president Perry Rush says there needed to be alternative pathways for kids who are violent in school (File photo).

Rush wanted to see a Napier-based pilot programme, Te Tupu- Managed Moves, rolled out nationally.

The programme supported a maximum of 10 students with two teachers and two teacher aides, engaging with families, community organisations, iwi, police, the district health board and the MInistry, among others, to support children at risk of exclusion.

“When their therapeutic needs are dealt with, they are able to reintegrate into their base school.”

The ministry’s deputy for sector enablement and support, Katrina Casey, was concerned the federation was encouraging schools to contest directed enrolment.

“Every child and young person has a right to an education.”

When it came to Te Tupu, an initial evaluation of the pilot’s first six months of operation showed some positive impact on the first group of tamariki.

“We agree that these initial findings are promising, and we are continuing to work alongside Te Tupu to monitor the pilot.”

A final evaluation on the pilot would be submitted in June 2022 and decisions about further roll-out would occur after that, Casey said.

“In the meantime, we provide and fund many programmes and services to support the management of behaviour that challenges others, including the Behaviour Service, Intensive Wraparound Service, and Interim Response Fund.”

The ministry was moving towards a more preventative and collaborative service approach centred around the needs of the child, Casey said.

A few children exhibited very challenging behaviour, often not due to the school but a range of social factors including housing, employment, transience and family disputes.

Depending on needs, the ministry could provide support in the form of a school-based resource teacher, the ministry’s behaviour service, or an intensive wrap around service.

“If a school decides to exclude a student, that will not be a decision they’ve taken lightly - often the exclusion comes following a period of behaviour, and despite the attempts of the school to address the behaviour. Use of the power to direct is a very last resort and one that we do not use lightly.”

RNZ
The Principals Federation is challenging the authority of the Ministry of Education to order schools to enrol violent children. It has told its members to consider contesting any directed enrolment involving a student who has been kicked out of another school for violence.